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Three ways to transform Canada’s food processing sector

4 min read

Canadian Food Innovation Network’s (CFIN) recent white paper, Unpuzzling Food Inflation: How Innovation Adoption by Canada’s Food Processing Sector Will Flatten the Curve, urges food and beverage manufacturers to adopt innovations and technology to develop a sustainable industry. 

“We believe technology, collaboration and creative problem solving can transform the food sector and pave the way to a sustainable and prosperous future for Canadians,” says Dana McCauley, CEO of CFIN.

Technology, collaboration, and creative problem-solving can transform the food sector.

Macroeconomic and global trends continue to inflate food prices, including geopolitical risks, weakening Canadian dollars and extreme weather events. Grocery prices have increased by 21.6% from February 2021 to February 2024. In addition, food and beverage processors face significant labour shortages that compound the operational challenges they currently face. 

CFIN stressed the urgent need for the food and beverage sector to create and adopt innovations in several manufacturing areas, including labour management and rising input costs, shelf life and food waste, and commercial dynamics.   

1. Labour and input costs  

According to the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, Canada‘s food and beverage sector is short 50,000 employees. That number is expected to increase as the country‘s population ages.

According to Kristina Farrell, chief executive of Food and Beverage Canada, adopting innovative technology focused on building workers' existing skill sets and increasing productivity can help respond to these labour shortfalls.

AI assistance

For example, Laplace Robotics creates artificial intelligence robotic and vision systems to improve performance by providing production insights and recommendations. DeepSight Réalité Augmentée, meanwhile, has developed augmented reality technology to provide 3D training in the food processing and beverage sectors, helping improve the skill level of existing personnel and overall productivity.

Adoption of novel ingredients

Using Canadian-produced novel ingredients, especially multi-purpose solutions, could reduce the overall cost of production. One example of this type of innovation is Crush Dynamics, which uses an advanced fermentation process to upcycle wine-making byproducts and agricultural waste into an ingredient that improves a product's texture, increases shelf life and reduces the amount of salt and sugar needed.  

2. Shelf life and food waste

Food waste is a pressing issue in Canada, with approximately 58% of the food produced going to landfills. Technology and innovation can address some of these core strategies by equipping processors with tools to minimize the number of products entering landfills.

Deep inspections

Plan Automation, an X-ray reclaim facility, designed technology that enables processors to inspect a potentially contaminated production batch. This technology identifies and isolates the containment, reducing food waste and product loss.  

Turning waste into soil additives

From an economic and environmental standpoint, minimizing the amount of packaging that enters the landfill is essential. Food Cycle Science Corporation is one company whose innovative technology has resulted in the development of enzymes to expedite the degradation of biodegradable plastics. These enzymes transform waste into soil additives, decreasing the amount of packaging and food waste that enters the landfill.    

3. Dynamics in the food and beverage sector 

According to CFIN, most Canadian food and beverage processors are small or medium-sized businesses, with approximately 90% of the 7,600 having fewer than 100 employees. When these businesses focus on production, keeping up with the latest technologies and price dynamics is hard. Profit margins are tight, however, and these are critical areas for building success. Adopting artificial Intelligence throughout operations can help determine any potential gaps in productivity, optimize production, and improve efficiencies.

Integrating artificial intelligence in plant operations

Adopting the right technology can distinguish between a company surviving and thriving. Vivid Machines Inc.'s supply chain solution uses data to anticipate the fruit crops' annual volume and quality. Primarily used in orchards, the Vivid X Vision system can scan 15,000 trees per hour, helping growers manage plant volumes accurately by using data to collaborate on fulfilling orders and managing plant volumes.

Better Cart Analytics is a price analytics platform developed to help food processors adopt competitive pricing intelligence. Food and beverage processors could use these insights to guide strategic decision-making, increase profit margins and create more holistic, transparent relationships between retailers and brands.

The CFIN white paper stresses that innovation, including adopting advanced technology, must remain at the forefront of developing a sustainable industry. This includes developing innovation centres to test new products and technologies while also continually developing new products and processes to respond to current and future industry challenges. For the Canadian food and beverage sector to thrive, CFIN states, processors must adopt a collaborative mindset, including sharing knowledge and resources to break down innovation barriers. 

Article by: Anne-Marie Hardie